By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In 1982, sickened by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with its concomitant cruelties, I‘d set out for the battlefield with a vague notion of somehow being of use. I was young. I was American, which means sheltered and ignorant. I had very little money, and I quickly became weak with amoebic dysentery. It was the Afghans who helped me rather than the reverse. They carried my backpack through the mountains, fed me, cared for me. Every time I remember how much I imposed on them, I feel ashamed. It was the month of Ramadan (or Ramazan, as they say there), when Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. An exception is made for invalids and for warriors on a jihad, but my mujahideen companions, even the sick ones, kept the fast. I had hiking boots and they had sandals. Their feet bled. And they kept walking and walking. They said to me that they were fighting only for God. They said tranquilly, “We will fight to the last drop of blood, but we will never surrender.” And they didn’t.
I remember all the men in the refugee camps in Pakistan who kept speaking of how much they longed to fight; they took turns crossing the mountains, some of them staying to protect their women and children in the camps while the others went to the homeland with their respective political bands, many of whom were at war with each other within Pakistan. Sometimes they didn‘t come back, and then, on the inner wall of the tent or the mud wall of the house amidst other mud houses upon the plain of gravel, the family would put up a photograph: They’d tell me with a fierce pride that so-and-so had been martyred. I have never seen such widespread heroism as I saw then. They loved their country so much; they loved their religion, which the Soviets would eradicate if they could, and because blood revenge was one of their culture‘s main determinants of honor, the shrieks of the women raped by Soviet soldiers, the cries of old people deliberately burned alive in their houses, the screams of the children who’d touched butterfly mines disguised as toys, these sounds all got carried on the mountain winds and people heard; people set out to take revenge. I admire them for it beyond words.
Outsiders have always quarreled over Afghanistan, and sought to control it. I‘ll not go back too far, but the Russians and the British played out their Great Game around Afghanistan for a century or two: When I went there it was the Russians and the Americans, with the Americans, as represented by the CIA, being on the winning side. So the Soviets finally departed from the country they had devastated without being able to subdue. When I returned to Afghanistan last year, there were one-legged minefield-beggars all along the road and so many rock-piled graves bearing the green banners of victim-martyrs; and people were clearing mines from the arid ground so slowly and wearily. This was almost a decade after the last Soviet soldier had gone away. On my right I saw the low desert hills in which a CIA-financed war hero named Osama bin Laden had won a particularly dangerous battle. Then came Kabul, gnawed away almost completely to ruins, with the women in their burgas like ghosts amidst the snowy desolation.
We did a very good thing when we helped the Afghans, and I for one will always be proud of it. Naturally we didn’t do it for them; we only wanted to make trouble for our arch-adversary. The Soviet Union pulled out, and then the Soviet Union collapsed, and we forgot Afghanistan. Well, maybe all of us except the CIA already had. I remember coming back to the U.S. in 1982, more desperate than ever to do something. I recorded a couple of radio broadcasts at a small college in the Central Valley; I showed my “An Afghanistan Picture Show,” which was a slide show meant to raise money for the refugees and the insurgents (the Spartacists, whose slogan was “DEFEND BUREAUCRATICALLY DEFORMED WORKERS‘ STATES,” meaning the Soviet Union, posted notices saying that my show had been canceled); I tried to find a magazine or a newspaper that would let me write about Afghanistan; I tried, and for many years failed, to publish An Afghanistan Picture Show, but the executive decision maker invariably told me, “Nobody’s interested in Afghanistan.”
Oh, but now we are very, very interested! It seems that the atrocity committed in New York earlier this month might have been committed by Osama bin Laden, who might be in Afghanistan; or possibly other terrorists who might live in Afghanistan may have something to do with it. I don‘t know how many thousands of Afghans died under Soviet occupation. In the civil strife between the Soviet and the Taliban periods, around 20,000 perished, and another 40,000 have been killed in the fighting between the Talibs and their opponents. Not that we really care. But about the 6,000 who died in the World Trade Center affair we care very much; we’re up in arms, in fact. And we should be. I hate their murderers as much as I hate the Soviet murderers of Afghan civilians. I hope that we find these terrorists and kill them, preferably after a correct trial.